MONTREAL — Quebec's three main opposition parties are criticizing the provincial government's decision to impose a 10 p.m. curfew to control the rapid spread of COVID-19, arguing the health order is a sign of the government's failure to prepare.
If the premier had acted earlier, then there would be less of a need for such strong measures, Opposition Liberal house leader André Fortin said in an interview Friday.
“When you see that no other provinces in Canada have this much restrictive measures, that instead they are announcing they are providing better ventilation in schools and accelerated vaccination … but our government choose to be restrictive instead of acting,” Fortin said.
Premier François Legault announced Thursday he was reimposing a curfew because the province's hospitals risked becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. The 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was scheduled to begin on New Year's Eve and run for an indefinite period of time. He also banned indoor private gatherings and forced restaurants to close their dining rooms.
The curfew is Quebec's second of the pandemic. A previous curfew, announced in early January 2021, was in place for nearly five months.
Joël Arseneau, health critic for the Parti Québécois, said the curfew is harder to accept now because the government failed to equip the health-care system to face the current COVID-19 wave.
“Quebecers’ tolerance is really low right now, because the government cannot say it didn’t have time to prepare,” he said in an interview Friday. “The government cannot say it’s surprised, that we are all on the same boat. It cannot say it didn’t have time to prepare adequately.”
The new curfew was announced the same day that South Africa — where the Omicron variant was first detected in late November — lifted a curfew that had been in place since March 2020. The Omicron variant now accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases in Quebec.
"All indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level," South Africa's Presidency said in a statement Thursday, as it reported a 29.7 per cent week-over-week decline in the number of new cases for the week ending Dec. 25.
Dr. André Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, said it's not yet clear whether the pattern of infection in Quebec will follow that of South Africa, which witnessed a steep rise in cases followed by a sharp decline about one month later.
"We hope that we're going to have a situation similar to South Africa," he said in an interview Friday. "I suspect we're going to be closer to what's going on in the U.K." Cases in the U.K., he said, "are still going up, hospitalizations are going up."
He said it's unclear how the wave will affect Quebec, adding that the province is in winter and people are spending more time indoors. While in South Africa, he said, it's summer.
Veillette said he supports the new measures announced Thursday, but he said the Quebec government could have begun using rapid tests earlier, improved access to N95 masks, and made third doses of COVID-19 vaccines available faster to more people, particularly health-care workers.
But Veillette said he's still optimistic. Scientific knowledge about the virus has improved, he said, adding that rapid tests are becoming more available and vaccines continue to provide a high level of protection against serious illness and death.
"Everybody's fed up and tired and our health system is not in good shape, but immunologically, therapeutically and scientifically, we are in much better shape than we were in before," he said.
Quebec reported 16,461 new COVID-19 infections on Friday and 13 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.
The Health Department said the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by 124 compared to the prior day, to 1,063, after 261 patients entered hospital and 137 people were discharged. It said 151 people were in intensive care, a rise of 13. Officials said 55,446 COVID-19 tests were conducted on Thursday and that 31.7 per cent of them came back positive.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Virginie Ann and Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Previous version had 5 p.m.